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Remembering a father figure who moulded us

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by Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne,
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff

Fifteen years ago, I was commanding SLNS Sauyra, the flagship of the Sri Lanka Navy, stationed at the Colombo Port. I had just returned from India after finishing my tenure as Defence Adviser at our High Commission in New Delhi. Our task was to sail into deep sea towards the equator in search of LTTE arms smuggling ships. We used to patrol for 21 days at a stretch and be in the harbour for 10 days for our much deserved break.

I vividly remember that day—Friday 12th August 2005. We had our Inter Command Volleyball tournament at Welisara, followed by a dinner. Our ships are ‘dry’ at sea (meaning no liquor is served onboard when out at sea) and this party following the volleyball tournament was a good opportunity for us to relax after a 22-day dry spell. 

It was around 9 PM on that day when I received a call from Madura, the Personal Security Officer of then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The Minister had promised me that he would visit my ship when I met him last time. My vessel was due to sail to Vishakapatnum Indian Naval Dockyard for medium refit—a US$ 20 million job arranged free of cost to the Sri Lankan government due to skilled negotiations of our Foreign Minister Kadirgamar! I thought the call was about the minister’s visit.

But what I heard from Madura was shocking. He said in a voice choked with emotion: “Sir, Minister was shot. His body is lying in the Colombo Mortuary. I am going back to his residence with the madam. Please come.”

So, LTTE has ultimately taken their prime target! 

I rushed to the Colombo mortuary from Welisara.

On my way, my mind went back to the day that I had met Mr Kadirgamar. I had been selected to the post of Defence Adviser, Sri Lanka High Commission (SLHC), New Delhi, India in November 2001. I was given an appointment to meet the Minister prior to my departure to India 9 AM at his residence. Half an hour was allocated for the meeting. There were also two clerical workers who were going to an Embassy in a Western country also waiting to see the Minister after me. I was surprised to note that the Minister used to meet all our staff (diplomats or the clerical staff) posted to foreign missions prior to their departure. When he saw me in uniform, he asked the others to meet him first, finished their calls fast and sat with me for a long interview. He knew the Navy well; his elder brother had once commanded it. He inquired about my foreign training exposures and advised me on the important appointment I was going to hold for the next three years. His briefing aptly covered the importance of India to us. 

Our half-an-hour meeting went on for one and half hours. Minister who was extremely busy but ready to spend time with a newly appointed diplomat to brief him and motivate him before he took up appointment in a foreign country! I was so impressed and determined to do my best in my new post.

When I reached the mortuary, the Minister’s body was lying on the postmortem table. The postmortem was over and the staff at mortuary were preparing the body to be transferred to an undertaker. They allowed me to see the body. His chest had been opened for the postmortem. One gunshot had gone piercing the heart damaging the main arteries. Lying on the table was the heart that had won love and respect of all Sri Lankans, Trinity rugby colours (1948/1949), the captaincy of the college cricket team (1950), Sri Lanka schools record in 110 meters hurdles, Trinity Lion in Athletics (1950), the first Duncan White Challenge cup for Athletics in 1948 and prestigious Ryde Gold Medal for best all round student at Trinity College in 1950.

Achieving glory

In 1950, young Kadirgamar went to the University of Colombo and then to the Peradeniya University to study law and graduated with an LLB (Hons) degree. He travelled to India in 1951 and 1952 for all-India university games and won 110 metres hurdles title in both years. He passed the Law College exam with a first class and took oaths as an Advocate at Supreme Courts of Ceylon. He then won scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. In 1960, he obtained a BLitt from University of Oxford and became a barrister at Inner Temple in London. He was the second Sri Lankan (after Lalith Athulathmudali) to become the President of Oxford Union.

Kadirgamar was working abroad as a reputed international lawyer until President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga invited him to serve this country. She made him a National List Member of Parliament and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  

I consider it a privileged to have served under such an eminent Foreign Minister. He very well understood the importance of India in our foreign policy. He had so many friends there. We who served at SLHC, New Delhi, as junior diplomats always benefited from Mr Kadirgamar’s visits to New Delhi. Ministers Natwar Singh, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Pranab Mukherjee or Ministers Mani Shankar Iyar or Kapil Sibal were our Minister’s close friends. He always introduced us, the young diplomats, to those eminent Indian leaders.

The usually calm SLHC would become a hive of activity when our Deputy High Commissioner, Chinnaiah announced, “The Minister is coming next week”. All important briefs and reports were prepared and updated. The Minister had the habit of listening to us and getting our views. My friend Saj U Mendis, who was a First Secretary at that time, would continue his brief until the Minister said, “I got your point Saj”. He stayed with our High Commissioner, Mangala Moonasinghe at the latter’s official residence. Mr and Mrs Munasinghe looked after the Minister and his wife with love and affection. When he stayed in a hotel, I was responsible for looking after his security. He was a prime target of the LTTE. The Indian government was aware of it and provided him with maximum security.

Minister Kadirgamar was a great orator. He would come to New Delhi, taking the Srilankan flight that left Colombo in the afternoon. He used to rest for four hours in the flight and have a light dinner prior to landing at New Delhi around 7 PM. Then, he went straight to the hotel and prepared his speech to be delivered the following day. With his trusted lieutenant and personal assistant Lenagala (Lena) on his side, he would work till late in the night. When his wife accompanied him, she would ask him to go to bed. We would take over the hotel business centre and convert it into our Secretariat temporarily during the ministerial visit. 

Once after Minister Kadirgamar’s speech, The Hindu editor and Ranji trophy cricketer, N Ram, who is the Minster’s personal friend, had this to write in an editorial: “When Lakshman speaks India listens.” The minister’s speeches were brilliant; he understood India well and Indian leaders respected him. He was a dear friend of India, and Sri Lanka gained tremendously from that friendship.

Among impromptu speeches the Minister has delivered, the one he made in London in September 2004 when he met the Sri Lankan cricketers during a dinner reception stands out. He highlighted the difference between National cricketers and our politicians in his speech replete with wit. (It is available at https://www.cricketmachan.com/cricstories/witty-speech-late-lakshman-kadirgamar-2004/)

While working under Minister Kadirgamar, I learnt three important things about India:

No protocol for friends: the Minister’s best friend was Pranab Mukherjee, very senior Politician from the Congress party. He was the Minister of Defence in 2004. He became India’s Finance Minister, External Affairs Minister and later the President of India. During one of the visits by Minister Kadirgamar to New Delhi in 2004, a meeting was scheduled at the meeting room of the hotel where the Minister was staying (Taj Palace Hotel) with Pranab Mukherjee, the Minister of Defence  of India. Our Minister informed me to tell him when Mukherjee was leaving his office. When I did so, Minister Kadirgamar came down in the lift from 5th floor and received Mukherjee at the entrance to the hotel. Then they went to the meeting room together. After the meeting also Minister Kadirgamar walked up to the car of the Indian Minister. Later, when I told him that as per protocol he had to receive Mukherjee at the meeting room, he said: ” Pranab Mukherjee is my friend. There is no protocol for friends! “

In a democratic country, do not forget the Opposition: When our Minister visited New Delhi, he made it a point to meet government leaders such as the PM, Minister of External Affairs, Defence Minister, etc., and thereafter the Opposition leaders.

One day, I asked him why?  He said “Ravi, do not forget, India is a democracy. In a democracy, one day the Opposition will come into power. It may be weeks, months or years. But when they come to power, they will remember you.” How true! It was a BJP-led government that was in power then. When we defeated the LTTE in 2009, India had a Congress-led government.

Indian monsoon is very important to Sri Lanka: Minister Kadirgamar would call and inquire about the monsoon in India. He would ask whether rain was heavy or mild and whether sufficient water had been received in agricultural areas or not. One day, I asked him why he was so keen about Indian monsoons.  He said, “Ravi, the Indian economy depends on the monsoon. When they get enough water, they will have a good crop of rice, wheat and vegetables. So, the government does not have to give grants to farmers and will have money to help neighbouring countries like us”. Brilliant thinking!

We miss the great Minister who groomed us. The diplomats recruited during Minister Kadirgamar’s tenure are now holding high positions as Ambassadors and High Commissioners today, due to excellent training they received from him. He wanted us to observe, learn and perform well for the country.

One day, Minister Kadirgamar was rushing to the President’s House with a junior diplomat at the time (I think its Chanaka Talpahewa) to meet President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. They were scheduled to meet the Russian Foreign Minister. Suddenly, the Minister stopped, looked at Chanaka carefully, walked up to him and adjusted his tie knot, saying, “Now you look better.” That was how the great man groomed the junior diplomats.

He was a wonderful person—a father figure. We miss him.

 



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Features

India and China opting to make positive impact in Ukraine

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Ukrainian troops ride atop an armoured vehicle on a road in the eastern Donetsk region

In what could be considered the most thought provoking development to date in the global politics growing out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China and India have called on Russia and Ukraine to go for a negotiated solution to the crisis. Of particular importance is Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s pronouncement to the effect that the parties need to ‘keep the crisis from spilling over and affecting developing countries.’

Elaborating on this policy position, Wang Yi was quoted saying: ‘China supports all efforts conducive to a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. The fundamental solution is to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture.’

As pointed out by some commentators, this stance by China is indeed a far cry from the unconditional support extended to Russia by China in all matters of vital importance to the former. In other words, it is a comedown of sorts from the ‘all weather friendship’ that was seen as binding the countries.

As explicit as the Chinese Foreign Minister on this question was India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. He said: ‘As the Ukraine conflict continues to rage, we are often asked whose side we are on. Our answer, each time, is straight and honest – India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there. We are on the side that calls for dialogue and diplomacy as the only way out.’

Hard ground realities and economic pressures that are extending well beyond the Eastern European theatre could be considered as compelling China and India to adopt this policy stance on the Ukraine crisis. It is plain to see, for instance, that the Russian invasion is meeting stubborn Ukrainian military resistance which is rendering the invasion a highly costly exercise for Moscow.

Despite the initiation of some desperate measures by the Putin regime, such as the partial mobilization of Russia’s citizenry for the war effort and the holding of ‘referendums’ in territory seized from Ukraine in an effort to legitimize Russia’s hold on it, the invasion could be considered as having all but stalled. On the other hand, the Ukrainian resistance seems to be having ample resolve and morale. Bolstered by recently supplied sophisticated Western weaponry, it has more than taken the fight back to the Russian invaders.

Evidently, then, Russia’s war effort is not going according to plan. However, the human costs, in particular, for both main sides to the conflict are prohibitive. Ukraine civilians are being subjected to a bloodletting that civilized sections the world over are recoiling from in horror. They could be said to be at the receiving end of state-inspired barbarism.

On the other hand, the majority of Russian civilians ought to be seeing themselves as nothing less than cannon fodder in Russian strongman Putin’s efforts to resurrect the defunct Soviet empire, now that they are being forcibly conscripted into an apparently futile war effort.

All this and more, ‘on the ground’, is clearly evident to both the friends and foes of Russia. They are likely to be of the view that the senseless war ought to be brought to a close.

On the other hand, to a greater or lesser degree, all countries are currently experiencing the adverse economic effects of the war. As is known, the Ukraine invasion is a principal cause for the worldwide rise in food and energy prices. If stagflation is fast spreading in the world and the more vulnerable sections among citizenries are sinking further into poverty and disempowerment it is, to a considerable extent, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its ill effects.

China and India, two of the foremost economic powers of the South, ought to be fully alert to these realities. Among other things, they know for certain that there could be no economic growth for them and the world amid mounting material hardships and the steady impoverishment of people.

To re-state a fundamental axiom in classical economics, there could be no demand for goods and services if people lack the power to purchase, which comes from money in hand. And without the exercising of demand the production of goods and services comes to a grinding halt. That is, economies crumble. This is happening in the South right now.

The inference is inescapable from the foregoing that the invasion of Ukraine must end and that needs to be achieved by political means since a continuation of armed hostilities would only beget more war and its ill-consequences. Accordingly, China and India would prefer to have a negotiated solution to the Ukraine crisis.

A peek at recent growth trends in India and China would disclose the extent to which these economies have been dependent on the growing prosperity of their upper and middle classes to nourish their material fortunes. A report published in this newspaper on September 21, 2022 said, among other things, that by 2026, India’s dollar millionaires are expected to double. During the 2021- 2026 period China’s dollar millionaires are expected to grow by 97 per cent. It is these classes that have been keeping their economies ticking in recent decades by virtue of their growing purchasing power. Their purchasing power has steadily translated into a strong indigenous manufacturing base, among other things.

It does not follow from the foregoing that economic equity is a very strong point of India and China. That would necessitate a steady trickling down of wealth to the economically lower classes but we would certainly be having growth and that has been happening markedly in India and China.

Likewise, the prosperity of their neighbours as well as that of the rest of the world contributes positively towards the growth stories of India and China. While India and China have been interacting positively in the economic field over the decades on the basis of their increasing economic power and thereby gaining mutually, it will be to their advantage to ensure that their neighbours too advance towards economic wellbeing.

This accounts for the ready extension by India and China of economic assistance to Sri Lanka in its current woes. Indeed, India and China would extend their largesse to other countries in the region in their hour of need as well because the growth successes of these economic giants are predicated upon the prosperity of their neighbours, among other factors. In the absence of a degree of economic prosperity, these smaller neighbours could not expect to interact effectively in the economic sphere with India and China and gain significantly by it.

Accordingly, it will be in the national interest of India and China to call on Russia and Ukraine to go for a negotiated settlement. If the conflict is thus ended it will not only benefit India and China but the rest of the world as well, considering that the conflict is exerting widespread economic ill-effects.

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‘Use heart for every heart’

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World Heart Day 2022

By Dr.Mohan Jayatilake
Consultant Cardiologist
Former President of Sri Lanka Heart Association

The theme of World Heart Day 2022 is “USE HEART FOR EVERY HEART”. The World Heart Federation has created this day to raise awareness about Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD).

Every year, on September 29th, people all over the world celebrate Heart Day as a way to draw attention to cardiovascular illnesses, their management as well as the worldwide toll they take on society. World Heart Day was created in the year 2000 to inform people around the globe that Heart diseases and Stroke are the world’s leading cause of death, claiming 17.9 million lives every year. According to WHO statistics, 82% of deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries are due to lack of resources.

Together with members of the World Heart Federation, we need to spread the news that at least 80% of premature deaths, from heart disease and stroke, could be avoided if the main risk factors, heavy smoking, unhealthy diet, reduced physical activity, and alcoholism, are controlled.

Increased high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, being obese, or overweight, are all side effects of living a bad lifestyle that may harm your heart.

The world was battling the Covid-19 pandemic for the last two years. Unfortunately, patients, with CVD, are more vulnerable and have become high risk groups. Heart patients are susceptible to get a more severe form of Covid-19 infection which could make matters worse.

National activities such as public talks, cardiovascular screening, walks, runs, concerts or sporting events are organised worldwide by members and partners of World Heart Federation.

Global leaders have recognised the urgency to give priority to prevention and control of heart diseases with other non-communicable diseases (NCD) which include cancer, diabetics and chronic lung diseases.

This year also, according to the theme, we ask people to take charge of their home’s heart health by taking steps to reduce the burden of the following risks:

Stop smoking

Stop smoking to improve your own and your children’s heart health.

Cigarette smokers are 2-4 times more prone to get heart disease and strokes, than non-smokers. Stopping smoking dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes and deaths.

A Few steps for successful cessation

Find your reason – strong motivation will help.

Line up support in advance – medical assistance

Lean on your loved ones

Find new ways to relax/unwind – stress can make a person fall back to smoking. Music, meditation, yoga or any other activity will help to alleviate stress.

Try and try again

– you only need to try again and again to achieve your target, even though you are unsuccessful in your first attempt.

Avoid alcohol and other triggers.

Physical exercise always helps to alleviate stress and avoid triggers of smoking.

Healthy diet at home

Unhealthy diet is at the root of many health issues, especially obesity, diabetics and CVD. Rapid urbanisation, changing lifestyles and easy accessibility of fast foods have made our dietary patterns unhealthy. Following are some healthy food patterns:

Limit saturated and trans fats

Limit salt

Limit sugar

Plenty of fruits and vegetables

At least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day should be a norm of your dietary habits. You should opt for low fat milk and dairy products.

Animal products, mainly beef, pork, poultry with skin, mutton, lard, butter, cheese carry a lot of saturated fat. Trans fats are contained in baked, processed and fried food items, certain margarines and spreads. In order to cut down saturated and trans fats, consume lean meats, poultry without skin, low fat dairy products, fish and nuts. Vegetable oils should be in moderation.

Regular Exercises

It is recommended that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or at least 75 minutes of high intensity physical activity per week.

Families should limit the amount of time spent in front of TV to less than two hours per day.

Exercise should be a regular part of your life. Due to the Covid pandemic, public exercise facilities are closed and most of the time movement of people is restricted. Therefore, home-based exercises were adopted to make exercises an enjoyable task.

Lose Weight

The world is now facing visible epidemic of obesity. It not only adversely affects your cardiovascular health, but also can affect your mental well-being.

The ways to lose weight effectively,

Do not skip meals – it will make you hungrier and go for more snacks.

Plenty of fruits and vegetables

Get active

– exercise burns off excess calories.

Use a smaller plate – eating smaller portions definitely reduces weight.

Do not ban foods

– you can enjoy an occasional treat otherwise you crave them more.

Cut down on alcohol

– it can make you gain weight.

Manage Stress

Psychological health and well-being can affect your cardiovascular health. Regular exercise, practising relaxation, being with your family and friends sometimes, adequate sleep, various hobbies, and maintaining positive attitudes towards life.

Know your numbers

Visit your doctor or healthcare professional.

Know your blood pressure which is one of the risk factors for CVD. Check regularly and take steps to control it including salt intake, exercises and medication.

Know your cholesterol – high cholesterol is another major risk factor for CVD. It should be checked regularly and controlled with dietary measures and medication.

Know your blood sugar – diabetics, conditions with high blood sugar levels multiply CVD risk. Diet control and medication required to control it.

Know your warning signs

Recognising symptoms of CVD can help you survive because earlier the treatment better the chances of survival.

Chest pain of tightening or burning in nature with pain radiating down the upper limbs or to the neck or back associated with sweating and nausea is the typical presentation of heart attacks. Sometimes heart burn or burning tummy pain could be due to a heart attack rather than gastritis or indigestion.

Sudden weakness of limbs, slurring of speech, mouth deviation or double vision could be due to a stroke. Knowing these symptoms and seeking medical assistance allow you to get treatment early and prevent complications which can be life threatening most of the time.

Take your medicine regularly and correctly

If you are already diagnosed with a heart disease or stroke, taking your medication, without fail, will reduce the chances of getting another attack of stroke or heart disease

Measures during pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has created havoc, globally. People with CVD fall into very high risk category.

Therefore it is important to,

Continue your medication uninterruptedly

Follow medical advice

Continue exercise and balance diet.

Maintain your social network and

Do not hesitate to take vaccination.

By doing the household steps, mentioned above, you and your family can reduce the burden of heart diseases.

Breastfeeding and lifelong health

Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for newborn and infants, according to WHO. Increasing public awareness is important. Infants who are breastfed tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lower rates of overweight and obesity all of which improve cardiac health.

Both undernourished and over nourished, early in life, can increase the risk for developing CVD. Evidence suggests that children who are undernourished while in the uterus and at childbirth bear a higher CVD risk later in life.

Maternal obesity during pregnancy has been associated with obesity in children which also increases the risk of developing CVD in life.

As always, our emphasis will be on improving heart health across all nations in adult male and female, as well as children.

By adopting lifestyle changes, people all over the world can have longer and better lives through the prevention and control of heart disease and strokes.

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Doctors…taking a break

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When we think of doctors, what comes to mind is medicine, patients, etc., and that’s only natural as doctors are our saviours…when we are ill.

We would hardly associate doctors with entertainment, and that’s where most of us are wrong.

I’ve been to a couple of concerts where these men of medicine have excelled, on stage, as entertainers, and some of them, I would say, are super-duper.

Yes, the Annual Sri Lanka Medical Association Doctors’ Concert is a much-looked-forward to musical extravaganza where the doctors, and their families, are provided the unique opportunity to showcase their talents, in performing arts.

It is usually held on the final day of the Annual Scientific Congress of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), and it’s all happening this Saturday, October 1st, at the Lotus Room of the BMICH.

Says Dr. B.J.C.Perera, Senior Consultant Paediatrician:

“It is a common belief that medical doctors are a sombre set of people who are mainly involved in looking after people with illnesses. True enough, they do perform that ever so immensely important task in society, and such a mission is by no means to be taken lightly, in view of its tremendous significance. Healing the sick is certainly a noble task and many of them are renowned performers, as well as experts in their own chosen specialties of the profession.

“However, it may come as a surprise to many that several of these medical men, and women, have other talents – musical, acting, drama, etc. There are very many extremely gifted performers of real class amongst our medical men, and women. In recognition of this, the SLMA has provided an opportunity for these artistic men, and women, to showcase their talents, and flair, in the performing arts, at the glittering SLMA Doctors’ Concert.

“This is a much-anticipated opportunity for members of the medical profession, and their family members, to put their hair down and forget medicine, at least for an evening. The Doctors’ Concert was started many years ago as a rather informal event and it has a most proud tradition of being staged annually, for quite a few decades, in the history of the SLMA.

“A dedicated band, consisting mainly of doctors, first played at the concert, in 2014. This was in the Committee Room 1, currently the Lotus Room, of the BMICH. They performed on a small stage done for them on a side.

“The continuing progress of the event was due to the untiring efforts of that absolute virtuoso in music, a drummer himself, Dr. Christo Fernando. He left no stone unturned to make the event a resounding success, from 2014 onwards.”

This Saturday, October 1st, we will not see doctors, in their usual uniforms (Coats and Scrubs), stethoscopes, or anything connected with medicine, but entertainment, at its best…on stage!

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